After the financial nightmares of problems with the three most important tools for my job (camera, car and computer) I was relieved to pack the car, now working like new again, thanks to a new turbo, tyres and brakes, and drive north to Oban. The Mull Photography Tours were still a fortnight away, so what was I doing there so early?
Andy Howard, who I co-run the summer tours with, had arranged a bespoke tour with some clients, to see wildlife in the Highlands, and then on the Isle Of Mull, and he'd asked if I could lend a hand, splitting his group in half, hence making guiding a little easier. I wasn't going to pass on an opportunity to visit Mull, so met up with him and his four clients late afternoon. By then, I had already spent a couple of hours watching hen harriers hunting over some marshes, and a ringed plover scuttling busily about on a shingle shore.
What hadn't changed was the wait for something to happen. It was hours before we heard the radio crackle into life, informing us of a bird circling, and then saw the shadow of it over the trees nearby. Then it was the excitement and tension before we heard one was diving, and after that it was a case of getting the camera focused on the osprey, and attempting to maintain a focus lock as it lifted out of the water, to fly away.
The remainder of my time in the Highlands saw me observing a local sand martin colony from close quarters, attempting to capture images of the nestlings about to fledge, some of them doing so accidentally when the sand gave way below them and they fell out of the nest area!
Now I could detail what happened on each day of each of the three tours, but this blog would perhaps rival War And Peace in terms of length, so I'll try to compress the action somewhat. Without doubt, Andy and I agreed that the highlight of each of the tours were the sailings on the Lady Jayne with Mull Charters, for the white-tailed eagles. For next year's tours, we are changing the itinery so that the public trip we did this summer, is replaced by another private charter, so our clients get two private sessions on the boat.
And we were fortunate on one trip to encounter a pod of bottlenose dolphins, which entertained our clients and provided additional photo opportunities.
The other "banker" each week, provided the weather was ok (which it was every week this year) was the Turus Mara sailing to Staffa, and then on to Lunga. We used the Staffa stop off mainly for a picnic spot, though on one of the weeks we crouched beside the steps leading up the cliff-face, to photograph some black guillemots nesting nearby.
Our primary species of otters, white-tailed eagles and puffins were all ticked off, but of course Mull has a lot more to offer on top. We frequently saw golden eagles, though never particularly close. Hen harriers remained hard targets, typically turning tail as soon as a camera was raised. But opportunities to photograph birds such as common sandpipers, pipits, swallows and even juvenile cuckoos were gratefully accepted.
Between the tours, Andy and I had just half a day to chill out, before preparing for the next one. And we used this time after the first tour to visit his family's home on the island, strolling along the cliffs amongst the bracken, watching stonechats, pipits and whinchats, crouching close to the ground to watch a distant golden eagle soar over the higher ground, staying low to capture images of a dragonfly sunbathing, and taking in the incredible views.
The final, third week was unusual in that for once, the unsung hero of the tours, Andy's wife Lyndsey, was joining us. Not just to help with the cooking, but to experience the joys of the tour for herself. Having visited Mull several times before, she was familiar with most of it, but had never visited Lunga, Staffa, or sailed aboard the Lady Jayne.
Of course my Mull adventures for this year are far from over, with a holiday there in a few weeks, and the two Otter Photography Tours planned for November. And I can hardly wait...